(War) Craft Until You Hate Yourself
A quick word: this post is about the crafting system of the recent World of Warcraft (hereafter to be called WoW) expansion entitled Legion. I will be discussing the system in depth I am not attempting to spoil things, but I don’t want to short change the discussion. Take this as what NOT to do if you are implementing a crafting system in a tabletop game. There are a lot of good ideas here, but there are some issues, as well. Remember that no matter what, world consistency is important. What’s good for the PCs is good for the NPCs. That definitely matters.
I’m not exactly a crafting visionary. That guy writes here, and his name is Brandes Stoddard. Being that I am not Brandes Stoddard, and I am filling in for him today (he’s doubling up next week for me,) I will do my best to talk about the recent complete overhaul to the WoW crafting system that was introduced with the launch of Legion. I’ve always been a crafter in WoW, partly because it was a way to gear your raid during progression, partly because if you are bleeding edge you can recoup expenses by selling crafted drops, and partly because I’m a collector at heart and getting all the patterns is something that appeals to me. I have done basically every profession, even collecting some Realm First! Achievements, back when those were a thing. I once controlled the market of an entire crafting skill to the point where crafters of the other profession essentially formed a union to try and stop me. For real. For now, I’m a blacksmith/miner.
The state of crafting in Warlords of Draenor, the previous expansion, was pretty dire. Garrisons, a sort of player housing, trivialized gathering skills completely, as you had permanent access to mining and herbalism, even if you didn’t possess the skill. This led many people to run dual crafting professions, as gathering wasn’t needed. Crafting was also entirely gated by Bind on Pickup crafting items, most of which you produced via an ability usable once per day, or one that produced less, but required a further Bind on Pickup item. You were completely in a silo, both in the profession, and in the game world. This was one of the major complaints about garrisons in general, as they encouraged separation from the world at large. It is my assumption that the Legion revamp was to address and revert this isolated gameplay.
I say all of the above to provide a bit of background for the commentary that followers.
In short, crafting in Legion stinks. It’s seriously one of the worst implementations I have seen. Despite that, I have to applaud the line of thinking that led them to this serious misstep. The goal of crafting in this expansion was to more thoroughly integrate crafting into your exploration and combat experience. Instead of it being in a silo, you would be doing it side by side the other things you were doing, and it would follow the same sort of interactions that the rest of the game followed. The end result is still “have the materials, hit a button, get the product,” but the cruft around that has drastically changed. Unfortunately, the game forgot to make it fun, and left in some byproducts of systems they have long since abandoned.
WoW has a new system for content that allows it to scale with your level. If you have played games like Guild Wars 2, this is hardly new territory, but it’s surprising to see it in WoW. It means that you are more gear dependent than ever, rather than allowing your level to enable your complete destruction of foes. This was implemented late in Legion testing, and the game was quickly adapted to allow you to start in any expansion zone you would like, save for instances and one open world zone meant to be the equivalent of Guild War 2’s living story stuff, but with character progression being the lever for change, rather than being governed by episodic releases. This is pretty great…until you realize that all crafting quests that you receive as part of your starting Legion experience take you to a single zone. If you started questing in a different zone, well, you choose poorly. Unfortunately, there is also no way to know this until you have already made your choice, unless you utilize 3rd party resources or heavily read the beta forums.
When you do get to crafting, you start to engage with the basics of the system. Every recipe has three ranks. The first rank is very expensive to make, the second rank is about half the cost to make, and the third rank halves it again. You no longer learn patterns through your trainer, but rather learn the patterns through your profession quests, find them as drops, receive them from World Quests, or buy the high end ones from a specific vendor. The starting items you can make, as is common in each expansion, are quickly outstripped by gear you get from quests or dungeons as you level.
The final rank of many of these starting items don’t unlock until you reach the maximum level of 110, and have unlocked World Quests. You unlock World Quests by reaching Friendly in reputation standing with each of the major factions in the expansion. This requires a bit of questing in each of the zones, and some major questing in the maximum level story zone. Once you have completed that grind, World Quests begin to populate your map. World Quests all have various time limits attached to them before they expire, and new ones pop up all the time. Each day, you can complete four World Quests for a specific faction (dictated by the game.) After you complete them you receive a chest with gold, items, or resources, and a chunk of reputation (this is important.) If you get lucky, a Work Order World Quest appears, you craft the item it wants, turn it in, and you receive the final recipe for that starting item. This is a lot of work for items that you will only be destroying (I’ll get to this,) but it is a discount, none the less. Even though this is very grindy and random, this is probably the best case of crafting thus far. Yeah, it’s that bleak.
That aforementioned huge chunk of rep? Well, that’s important because you have to max out your reputation with various factions in order to get the final pattern, and in some cases second pattern, for your max level crafted items. These max level crafted items are hellacious to make. Without a deep discount, they are unbelievable expensive to make, and the level of interdependency is tremendous. As a blacksmith and miner, I had to first had to get ten of a specific herb to unlock a vendor component. While not bad, this means you need a friend, alt, or go spend money to get it. In order to craft the first max level item, I have to have 55 bars, which I make from blacksmithing and not mining for some reason (this is a Warlords of Draenor hold over), which are comprised of a total of 165 ores, and 80 scales, which come from skinning. This is much, much worse. In fact, all max level items require around that much of a material from another profession. Not only that, but you have to purchase the first rank of all these max level patterns with 20 ore, and 20 of another material outside of your profession. It’s ugly.
Once you make this first max level item, you receive a quick quest to immediately get a cost reduction on it. It requires 35 bars (105 ore now) and 40 scales. Still pretty ugly, but comparatively a lot better. Now, each max level item is upgradeable to the current maximum item level cap. At the time of writing this, it is 850, meaning you can upgrade the items you create, which are 815, a maximum of 7 times. Unlike previous expansions, where you spent a currency you accrued through dungeons and raids, you upgrade these items through destroying other crafted items and obtaining a material called Obliterum. One piece of Obliterum upgrades an item 5 item levels. In order to unlock the process of making Obliterum, you need one max level crafting item from each of the armor-making professions. You can probably trade the item you make for another profession’s item, but that only works at the beginning. When people no longer need it, you better make some friends, level a bunch of alts, or pony up that gold. You will likely be at the second tier of crafting for a long time, because the final tier unlocks when you get exalted with those reputations, rated pvp (yes, really), or you get them from stuff like raid bosses or world bosses.
Reputation is a massive, massive gated grind in Legion. I mean, holy shit is it bad. When you complete every quest in a zone, you end up at Honored, the second positive reputation level you can attain. You still have to complete Honored and then Revered in order to attain Exalted. Honored takes 12000 reputation in order to complete, and Revered takes 21000. World Quests give you 25-75 reputation when you complete them. The big faction dailies (again, which you can’t control) give you 1500. Just thinking about it is enough to make me sad.
Getting that last tier of each item is incredibly important. In the case of blacksmithing, it cuts out the secondary profession item all together, and further lowers the bar cost. Many people state you don’t need to get the further ranks, because you can make the item, even if it is more expensive, so at least that is ok. However, I actually think this is awful. You need to make and destroy so many items in order to keep your items upgraded that you will fall massively, massively behind in all areas attempting to craft in this fashion. It’s a logical fallacy of the worst sort. Crafting is doubly important in this expansion, because of the fact you can keep attempting to craft items until you get the stat allocation you want. Speaking as someone who currently has 34% in a stat I don’t want, this is a huge deal. Hitting your ratings and break points is more important than ever.
Finally, I want to touch on gathering. For mining, it’s no longer just nodes, but there are also seams, which are a step up from rich nodes, and they have formalized mining from creatures that makes sense to mine by adding Living Mining. As you mine, you find quest items that teach you further ranks of gathering that material. Having higher ranks means you harvest more as a base from that item.Of course, the randomization means I am missing a ton of ranks, because I can’t get the drops. Even though I have been max level since basically the first 24 hours of release, I have a 0% chance of mining rare materials because I haven’t found the quest item. This is some straight up bullshit. Do you want an inflated and regulated economy? Because this is how you get an inflated and regulated economy.
Don’t take this to mean I don’t like the expansion. I have strong opinions on lots of the items, but I am enjoying it overall, and I am looking forward to seeing how a lot of things shake out. Do take from it that this is one of the worst and most frustrating crafting system implementations I have seen in this game, and many other games. A tabletop game wouldn’t have a lot of the issues, but it could easily experience versions of many of them without addition to these missed details. Sure, a rep grind isn’t going to happen, but quest and adventure gating can definitely occur. Be cautious. The core idea is great. I love the concept of integrating crafting, exploration, and adventuring. It definitely fosters immersion, or at the very least, cohesion. Unfortunately, the WoW team took the good idea, put it in a bag filled with poop, lit the bag on fire, left if on our doorstep, rang our doorbell, and then ran away. I might be too close to the problem, but it definitely feels like we have been dump sacked by the WoW crafting team.